Fuel up before being active

Discover ideas for pre-workout meals or snacks to keep you energized, without upsetting your stomach.

You may have seen information about the importance of eating a healthy breakfast or how to snack smart, but do the same rules apply when it comes to eating before exercise? Is it necessary to have a snack before a workout session? What about breakfast before an early morning workout? Generally speaking, eating prior to exercise can be beneficial because it allows you the fuel to get through your activity session. Michigan State University Extension says that this is especially true if you exercise first thing after waking up, since your body used up any energy stored while you were sleeping. This is also true if you are engaging in a longer (one hour or longer) or more vigorous bout of exercise, such as jogging, swimming laps, playing singles tennis or playing basketball. If your activity is shorter in length (30 minutes or less) or of a moderate pace (a brisk walk, water aerobics or doubles tennis) then a snack may not be necessary.

Ideally, snacks should be eaten 30 minutes to an hour prior to exercise. The better snack options are lower in fiber and fat, since those two items take longer to digest and may produce an upset stomach during physical activity. This is because blood flow is diverted away from muscles and toward the stomach and other digestive organs when food is eaten. The slower digestion and the reduced blood flow to the muscles can cause upset stomach and muscle fatigue. Snacks that have a mix of carbohydrate and protein give the body both a quick supply of energy and a longer lasting energy supply, while minimizing the stomach becoming upset and fatigue.

Here are some snack examples or try coming up with some of your own:

  • A medium banana (or other piece of fruit) and a half-cup cup of low-fat yogurt
  • One cup of fruit smoothie made with your favorite fruits and low-fat yogurt
  • Three graham crackers with one tablespoon of peanut butter
  • An apple and string cheese
  • One-half cup of oatmeal
  • One cup of low-fat milk
  • Whole grain crackers with cheese
  • Granola bar

Above all, trust your body and your instincts. For example, if any food before an early morning workout session gives you an upset stomach then it may be better to avoid it. You could try just drinking some fluids, such as milk or 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice before exercise, or try a larger snack before bedtime. Also, avoid trying a new food as a pre-workout snack since you may not know how your body will tolerate it.

Additionally, if you have diabetes it is important to consider your blood glucose levels with regard to any food/drink as well as any activities performed. Your health care provider would be able to offer more advice or recommendations. Another resource for health and nutrition information is your local MSU Extension office.

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